The Tart That Got Away
I had such high hopes for this post. I was going to present you all with a lovely dessert that would wow and please your Thanksgiving guests, but the baking gods had something else in mind. My problems with this recipe started with one big mistake: I read Mark Bittman.
About the tart, he says “it is literally child’s play.” To Mr. Bittman’s credit I then, of course, skipped over the part about how while it is easy, it still has to be “learned.” But I had the confidence I needed. This thing is child’s play.
This attitude led to me breaking one of my golden rules in the kitchen: Stay humble. Because the one time you think you can master something, it will fall apart all around you because you become careless. And that is more or less what happened to this.
I’m posting the recipe for the crust, but not the filling because, well, you will find out why. The recipe for the crust is solid though and it goes like this:
1) Cube cold butter. Mix together flour, salt, and sugar in a small bowl. Work in cold butter using a pastry cutter or your clean fingers until it is in pea-sized chunks.
2) Now slowly add your yolk and your water. You should be able to form clumps with the dough now that stick together very nicely.
3) Form dough into a nice ball. Wrap this in plastic wrap and chill it for at least an hour. You can freeze it for days and days, but you want to make sure everything is nice and cold.
Roll dough out and use as directed.
As with any crust, you want to start with extremely cold butter, cubed. In fact, if you are using a food processor, you can even use frozen butter. I used a food processor here and I don’t think I’m ever doing it again. I’m just not satisfied that you can get the right butter distribution with a food processor. The problem is that you don’t want the butter processed. You want it clumpy but yet distributed. That is how you get those small peas of butter that lead to that really flaky crust.
When I use a processor though, I just spin away and end up with a butter flour meal of sorts that isn’t what I want. This is what I got this time and I knew right away that I over processed it a bit.
Now, I know plenty of people who stand by the processor and I think they can work as long as you have restraint with the pulser. Go slow and try not to over do it. I am incapable of doing that so, for me, it’s back to mixing in the butter by hand with a pastry cutter or even a fork.
Anyway, so assuming you do that part right, you will be much better off as that is one of the most important parts. What is frustrating is that I knew it was the most important part and yet I was so confident, I just plugged ahead rather than taking the time to redo my obvious mistake. Anyway, onward and upward!
Now slowly add your yolk and your water. You should be able to form clumps with the dough now that stick together very nicely.
Now just take your dough and form a nice ball. Wrap this in plastic wrap and chill it for at least an hour. You can freeze it for days and days, but you want to make sure everything is nice and cold.
The method I like to use for rolling this dough out is to put it between two pieces of parchment paper and just slowly roll it out with a rolling pin. After you roll it a few times, turn it 1/4 of a turn so as to make sure you have a nice circle and that you are rolling evenly.
This part I knew I could do, but the dough would not be as flaky as I wanted due to my previous error.
Ok. Now for my even larger mistake. THE FILLING. I was trying to get all fancy with this thing so I took some fruit that I had around (cranberries and raspberries which was a great start) and put them in a sautée pan. But then I just got too cocky. I added: 2 Tablespoons of jam, 2 Tablespoons of brandy, honey, and sugar. Was I drunk while I was doing this? No. I’m not really sure what I was thinking.
This is where I got even more cocky though: The filling tasted awesome. It was a bit tart but yet had some sweetness and had a nice texture. So, with chest puffed out, I emptied the entire pan onto my crust. What could go wrong?!
I should have known something was going to be wrong right after I took the above photo because the filling continued to flow out from the center. But I was way past the point of no return. So I clumsily folded all the sides up on the tart. (CHILD’S PLAY!)
Do note that I did one thing correctly, which was to sprinkle sugar under my tart dough so when I folded it up there was some sugar on the top and also it makes it easier to get your tart off the baking sheet.
As you can imagine, when I took this thing out of the oven, the filling had completely exploded all over the place. This was because my filling was way too moist. There was all the liquid from the additions I put in PLUS all of the natural liquid in the fruit and it just seeps right out once it got hot.
So, while it was not something I would want to remake (and the photos didn’t turn out great), I did learn plenty from it:
1) No more food processor for me when it comes to pie or tart dough.
2) Keep it simple with fillings. Why did I think complicated was better? Just the fruit tossed in a bit of sugar would have yielded better results
3) Stay humble. There were a bunch of signs during this baking experience that should have made me put on the brakes, but I just plowed ahead.
Now for the shocking part – or at least it shocked me. The tart wasn’t bad. It actually tasted nice. It wasn’t the best thing I’ve ever tasted, and the crust wasn’t the best, but in general it was pretty darn good. Still better than store bought! So even if things aren’t going perfect, you might still make a decent dish and at least you will learn some things along the way!
Sometime shortly I will be trying this again with hopefully better results and better photos. Hopefully, I can learn from this and maybe the next time I try this I can say that it is, in fact, child’s play.